Today’s blog post comes from Glen, who writes about his hobbies and his experiences living with vision impairment over at his blog, welleyenever. In this post, Glen tells us about his life in education with his vision impairment, how his confidence has improved and his tips for other individuals going through similar experiences. Read on for Glen’s story and excellent advice about how to reach out for support if you need it!
My name is Glen, I’m 33 years old, and I work as an IT supervisor in the printing sector. I also moved to London recently, becoming a homeworker in the process, and am happily exploring the city and making new friends. It’s wonderful, but it’s been a long journey to get here, with challenges and surprises along the way.
I was born visually impaired, with aniridia (which means I have no irises) and nystagmus (where my eyes are constantly moving). As a result, I’m overly sensitive to glare and bright daylight, I struggle to see in the dark, and I can’t read or see things clearly unless they are close up or enlarged. All of which has been easy enough to adapt to, but developing my self-confidence was much harder.
I first went to a mainstream school — and, with the right support, many disabled people do succeed in this environment. But here, the teachers didn’t know how to help me, so I couldn’t follow classes and was regularly bullied by other kids. Consequently, the only thing I learnt from that school was that I was unimportant and useless. Utter nonsense of course, but it was all I perceived at the time.
So I was soon transferred to a school for the visually impaired, but by then I was extremely shy. I didn’t like putting my hand up or talking in classes, for instance, out of fear and assumption that I’d be wrong. And it was hard to engage with people that I didn’t know. Indeed, I now got bullied for the fact that I was shy and withdrawn and easy to upset. So I still had that to deal with.
However, there was a key difference this time – I had a great support network. The teachers were very kind, helpful and patient, and there were kids there that I did get on with. It was now possible for me to learn things and get to know people in a more comfortable way. It didn’t change me overnight, but the right seeds were now being sown and nurtured. And so, as time went on, I gradually came out of my shell more and more. I was making close friends and having fun, and I was being praised by the teachers and getting good grades. So there was much to be happy about.
And that led to an unexpected turning point – becoming friends with the children who had been teasing me. By working hard and behaving normally, I was doing much better than them, getting results, perks and treats that they weren’t. Not only did it prove to me that I was doing the right thing, but it also dawned on the bullies that taunting me had been pointless. So we developed a new level of respect and got to know each other better. I finally understood why they had behaved in the way they had, which put everything into context. It had never been my fault or even theirs — they had needed help and support just as I did. So I was able to forgive them and sympathise with them, which really helped.
So by the time I left school, I was a very different person. Not perfect – nobody is – but a lot better than before. I was ready to deal with the transition back to more mainstream environments — college, university and then getting a job — being around non-disabled people more than ever before. I was still a bit wary and shy about this — and I always will be to some degree around people I meet for the first time. But it was no longer a barrier. I was able to talk to people and feel confident about the work I was doing, building up respect and close friendships among those around me. This is especially true in the job I’ve had for over 12 years now. I get on very well with my colleagues, I really feel that I’m a highly valued member of the team.
And those experiences set me up perfectly for my recent move to London – an unexpected but great opportunity that I’ve been making the most of. I’ve joined a few social clubs (and not just ones for people with disabilities), I’ve been exploring lots of places and trying new things, I’ve been blogging and posting videos about it all, and I’ve been making wonderful friends along the way. I could never have imagined being this social and outgoing as a child, but now I am, I’m loving it. It’s been worth the wait.
So my advice to disabled people and those who look after them is simple — don’t give up, even when things are difficult and daunting, and the future seems uncertain. Nobody knows what will happen during their life, and all sorts of things are possible given time, patience, determination and the right support. There are loads of organisations, communities and individuals out there who offer help and advice, and I highly recommend searching online for those that relate to your condition or situation. The help is out there, so never be afraid to ask for it. You’re really not alone.
Thanks again to Glen for his wonderful contribution and excellent advice on living with a disability! Don’t forget to read more about Glen and his experiences over at his blog and social media.